(Read Part 1 HERE)

In a previous article, I explained how I recently had someone (seemingly) attempt to burn my house down using a gas can.  My experience that night was humbling – as a guy that puts a fair amount of thought into preparation and safety, I found myself utterly unprepared, and my family utterly unsafe.

As you can imagine, I didn’t get much sleep the night of the fire.  Instead, I used that anxious energy to conduct a thorough inventory of the emergency gear I have at home, and to consolidate that gear into a single location that not only I could easily access, but my wife would know of if I weren’t there.  We also updated our emergency exit strategies to include the possibility of a fire blocking both doors, which brings up the first important lesson I feel the need to address:

Have a plan

Be sure to establish a specific location to meet if you become separated from your family members in the event of an emergency.  My wife and I have two, in the event the first location is compromised by fire or another form of threat.  Having a meeting point can help you get accountability of everyone, so you can make sure your family got out safely, or quickly identify if anyone is missing.  Practice evacuations as often as you test your smoke alarms (once a month).

While there are a number of emergencies that may occur at your home, most can be addressed through simple small variations on one, well-thought-out-plan.  Make sure first aid, important medications, and fire safety equipment are also easy to find and access.

Consider the locations of your smoke alarms

My house has a pretty traditional layout: two floors of living space with an unfinished basement/garage underneath.  As we moved in, we found that there are only two smoke detectors: one in the hallway on the second floor, and one in the hall just in front of the master bedroom on the first.  These smoke alarms are located in the same spot on the floor plan, one directly above the other, and are hardwired so one alarm going off will set the other off as well.

The locations of these smoke detectors, I learned last weekend, means a fire would have to be either in one of the hallways, or large enough to ensure a hallway is full of smoke to go off.  On both floors, those hallways are the only means of exit, so by the time a smoke detector goes off, you can be fairly certain it’s too late to make an escape that doesn’t involve climbing out a window in the dark onto uneven ground.

Don’t simply rely on having smoke detectors, put some thought into where they are located and what level of early warning they can provide.  My local fire department actually sent a team to my house to look around and determine the appropriate places to add extra alarms – they even provided and installed the alarms for free.  Contact your local fire department to see if they have any similar programs, or just give your smoke detector layout some real thought, and purchase additional units to add where necessary.

Here are some other tips on where to install smoke alarms:

  1. Add an alarm to each bedroom, outside of sleeping areas, and have at least one on each floor of your home.
  2. Don’t install smoke alarms near doors or windows so they can’t be affected by wind.
  3. Install smoke alarms in common living spaces like the living room, or near the stair case in places like the basement.

Remember that fire security is still about security

Up until recently, my concerns about fires at home were relegated to the kitchen and garage.  I assumed that the only ways my house could be in danger of burning down were if I managed to do something that caused a fire – now I know that’s not the only kind of fire danger to worry about.

Many of us plan for the possibility of a home invasion or burglary.  These types of crimes come with two generic forms of intent: to hurt or kill you, or to steal your belongings.  I tend to assume anyone that is breaking into my house intends to kill me, and as such, I’ve long maintained the operational strategy of “kill them first,” but somehow, despite my paranoia, it hadn’t crossed my mind that someone may not need to actually enter your home to try to hurt you.  The possibility that someone could simply light a fire and be on their way seemed akin to the idea that someone could be hacking into my phone to steal my pictures: sure, I know it’s possible, but why would anyone bother?

Turns out, people will bother.

So as you plan your home defense strategy, include the possibility of fires starting on the outside of your house.  Maybe you left your grill burning, maybe an electrical fire started at the pole and made its way to your walls, or maybe someone actually intends to do you harm. In any regard, your fire security plan needs to allow for the possibility of a fire on the exterior walls of your house as well as the interior ones.  It’s difficult to relay general rules to improve your tactical response to such a situation as every house and yard are different, but it’s important that you consider the possibility in relation to what should be your overall objective: getting you and your family to safety.

Make sure your fire extinguishers are accessible, and preferably, keep a separate one on each floor of the house to ensure you don’t have to go running up and down stairs while the fire continues to spread.  If possible, work in partners while attempting to put out a fire if you believe the fire was set by a third-party, allowing you to focus on the threat of the flames while they keep an eye out for any other form of threat.

Talk about this stuff

If you had asked me a week ago if I thought it was important to plan for the possibility of arson, I would have shrugged and said, “sure, plan for anything,” before returning my attention to whatever YouTube video full of cats I was watching at the moment.  Now, my response would be similar, but in a very different tone: “Yes. Plan for everything.”

You might sound like the paranoid one if you start gathering up first aid supplies and fire extinguishers and ranting at your wife, husband, kids, parents, or roommates about the importance of preparation.  They may laugh at you for thinking you could be at risk of an accidental or nefarious emergency.  They may even roll their eyes and try to get you to drop it so they can get back to those same YouTube videos full of cats.

Don’t let them.

If having a few conversations about what to do in an emergency makes you the “crazy one,” relish in that appointment.  It’s those “crazy ones” that keep their families alive when the going gets tough – and it’ll be thanks to you that you’re able to put the fire out right away with a big enough fire extinguisher… instead of standing in your underwear in pricker bushes as you spray your house with a garden hose and hope for the best.

Better to be crazy and safe, than sane and homeless.

Original photo by Alex Hollings